13 Extraordinary Women in Design and Architecture You Need to Know
March may be Women’s History Month in the United States, but the work of women in all fields of design surrounds us every day of the year. From textile design to landscape architecture, ceramics to interior design, we’ve highlighted the work of 13 diverse women in the U.S. and asked them to provide insight into what motivates their work, how they established their design studios, and their role as females in the design world. Read on to learn about how they approach their projects, maintain a work/life balance, seek out and become mentors, and more.
Get carefully curated content filled with inspiring homes from around the world, innovative new products, and the best in modern design
Raised in Paris to a family of Caribbean origin from the island of Martinque, Marie Burgos established her interior design offices and furniture lines, Marie Burgos Design, in Los Angeles and New York. Drawing inspiration from the great art, architecture, and interiors that she was exposed to from an early age—as well as the native foods, family life, traditions, and beaches of Martinque—Burgos has created furniture and lighting collections jointly with her husband.
Burgos sees her role as a designer as someone who creates spaces that are nurturing and personal, and her role as an employer to showcase the business and create a productive work environment that fosters a sense of wellbeing for each employee. A strong believer in balance and harmony in design as well as her personal life, Burgos says that she has become a "seasoned, productive multi-tasker" as a designer, wife, and mother of two young children.
The unconditional love, perspective, and balance that she has learned and achieved, along with new levels of patience and prioritizing, brings her "a high degree of positive energy that I am able to use in my working relationships as well as my family life." Burgos also seeks to be a role model for her daughter and for her staff, hiring and encouraging other women.
Founded in 2015 and based in Portland, Oregon, Casework is a design studio started by interior designer Casey Keasler focused on interiors and how they are experienced. As the founder and creative director of the firm, Keasler seeks to promote creativity, collaboration, and curiosity; her projects range from residential to commercial designs. Keasler calls her clients her biggest source of inspiration, learning what makes them tick and what their vision is so that she can translate that into a personal, thoughtfully designed environment.
Before starting her own firm, she was told by a mentor that she didn’t need to know everything, but had to learn how to ask the right questions to achieve the results she wanted. To that end, she spent a lot of time listening, learning, and growing until she was ready to start her own business. Now that she has successfully done so, she is motivated to carve out a "creative, supportive space for women in this world."
Established in 2010, Ellen Van Dusen’s textile and clothing company, Dusen Dusen, is focused on creating bold, colorful prints. Van Dusen currently is based in Brooklyn, and expanded her collection in 2015 with Dusen Dusen Home, a textile and home goods line that includes bedding, throws, pillows, and towels.
Van Dusen’s work, and in particular her clothing, is known for versatile, wearable silhouettes made with her eye-catching prints. She is regularly inspired by fine art, commercial and naïve design, and the brain’s reaction to color and contrast. Currently, she is inspired by oversized versions of ordinary objects, Madeline Arakawa and Madeline Gins, tropical birds, and board games.
Founded in 2014, Carly Nance and Rachel Bentley started The Citizenry as a socially conscious home decor brand that partners with master artisans around the world to create modern, globally inspired designs. From leather butterfly chairs handcrafted in Argentina to blankets woven in the mountains of Peru, The Citizenry brings the world’s best craftsmanship directly to consumers online.
With new collections (and artisan partners) added every year, the two work with their product design director, Haley Seidel, and are inspired by "different cultures, crafts, and raw materials; each one is a unique input to our design process." In a female-run company, Carly says that "empathy and insight run deep in our culture," and Rachel considers the ability to support talented craftswomen around the world as one of the most rewarding aspects of her role in bridging across cultures.
Born in New Zealand and raised in L.A., Alda Ly started her own architectural practice, Alda Ly Architecture & Design, in 2017 after working at Rafael Viñoly Architects, 212box, HWKN, and Leong Leong. She also cofounded Designers Assembly, an organization that supports young architects who aspire to ethical, creatively fulfilling entrepreneurship. ALA’s first major projects were for the East Coast and California locations of The Wing, a co-working space and community for women.
Ly’s other clients include functional medicine provider Parsley Health, the retail platform Bulletin, and social-action technology firm Blue State Digital—to each of her projects, she brings a minimalist yet playful design sensibility. She takes occupants’ wellbeing very seriously, incorporating biophilic design principles into her spaces and emphasizing a hands-on, collaborative approach with her clients.
Gennifer "Gen" Muñoz is a licensed architect and opened her practice, GEN M ARCHITECTURE, in January 2018. Her Sacramento, California–based firm specializes in contemporary residential, multifamily, and mixed-use projects.
Gen’s undergraduate studies at The University of Virginia and graduate work at UC Berkeley has inspired her firm’s design approach, which is rooted in hands-on drawing, model making, and architectural theory. Her team of former students reflects her desire to uplift and empower women in architecture through teaching, mentorship, and work in the community.
Shop Women-Led Design
For Judy Kameon of Elysian Landscapes, what started as the purchase of an empty lot next to her small bungalow in 1991 turned into a career in landscape architecture and design over the course of the following five years. Kameon’s initial focus on residential design/build work quickly blossomed into significant commercial commissions, including highly creative landscapes for the Parker in Palm Springs, Balenciaga, and Isabel Marant.
Since then, Elysian Landscapes has created hundreds of private and public gardens across Los Angeles and beyond. Kameon puts her vast knowledge of plants from around the world to use, designing responsible landscapes that are as unique as they are sustainable. Kameon says that above all, her team "thrives on creating outdoor environments that are deeply personal and celebrate the relationship between planetary health, artistic expression, and the ephemerality of the natural world."
Helen Levi is a Brooklyn–based potter working primarily with stoneware, creating functional ceramics meant to be used every day. While the pieces might be created for daily use, they are distinct, elegant, and bold; Levi’s use of different clay bodies for her cups, bowls, planters, and mugs results in beautifully marbled pieces that have the mark of being handmade.
After working as a photographer in New York City, Levi had been practicing ceramics for years before she began to do it full-time. Her work is inspired by organic forms found in nature, and her color palettes are typically bold, bright, and full of life.
Studio Cooke John is a New York–based design studio with a strong focus on high-impact, residential architecture, as well as design for international cultural institutions. After working across the country on major cultural and institutional projects, Cooke John formed Frame Design Lab in 2012, which became the predecessor for her current firm.
Born in Jamaica, Nina has always been inspired by the creativity she witnessed in her homeland, and sees her multi-faceted design practice as one that explores modern living "from the intimate scale of the home to that of the street." She credits her ability to multi-task to her role as a practitioner, parent, and educator; she believes that "each part of what I do informs the other and all skills learned are transferrable." From PTA meetings to sitting on the boards of local community institutions, Cooke John says that her journey as a working parent "has served to make me a more innovative, adaptable and grounded architect."
Egg Collective is a New York–based design company established in 2011 by Stephanie Beamer, Crystal Ellis, and Hillary Petrie. Conceived of as a creative partnership synthesizing its founders’ backgrounds in art, architecture, and woodworking, the company was founded on the concept that "materials are sacred and are imbued with infinite potential." As a result, each item in Egg Collective’s collection is handmade from natural materials that are intended to stand the test of time.
At the company’s core, community, quality, and stewardship of the natural world are of the utmost importance, from the design stages to the production processes. Their work is made in Egg Collective’s own wood shop in collaboration with local, small-scale fabricators, completing works in wood, leather, metal, glass, and stone. The company is also committed to representing a small selection of emerging and mid-career contemporary artists and designers with the hopes of fostering a dialogue across the applied and fine arts.
Born in the United States and raised in South Korea, artist and designer Nina Cho studied woodworking and furniture design in Korea before attending Cranbrook Academy of Art and ultimately established her studio in Detroit, Michigan. In Korea, the Hongik University encouraged her to tell my own story and design pieces inspired by her own identity, while her time at Cranbrook allowed her to continue to develop her own distinct process and approach.
Cho credits her background that led her to a reductive aesthetic, where she "merges Eastern philosophy with experimental forms" by exploring voids and the concept of emptiness—an idea that is part of a traditional Korean aesthetic. In Korean paintings, she points out, the unpainted portion is just as important as the painted part, "respecting the emptiness as much as the object." Cho explores this duality with her work, which balances positive and negative space as a way to look at form.
"By eliminating the extraneous, I aim to simplify not only form, but the fabrication process as well. I use various materials and study how they relate to my philosophy," says Cho.
Vacilando Quilting Co. is a textile and design studio created and run by Laura Preston out of her 34-foot Airstream trailer. While Preston’s quilts and textiles are created out of traditional methods, her designs are anything but. Preston looks to travel, landscapes, and connections with place as inspiration for her fresh, graphic, and bold designs with solid-colored fabrics and large-scale piecing.
Preston finds that "living on the road and having a different backyard every week is a constant source of inspiration for my work—I get to see the world with fresh eyes and expand my perspective." And while the quilting and textile industry is largely composed of women, she finds that it can be a struggle to have others see quilting as art and design, in part because quilting has long been considered "women's work" and was viewed as a hobby for grandmas. However, she sees the possibility of change, noting that "people have certain preconceptions of what a quilter looks like and what a quilt looks like, but it's exciting to see those ideas being challenged in the world of modern quilting."
Determined by Design is a minority- and veteran-owned boutique interior design firm founded by Kia Weatherspoon and based out of the vibrant Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C. With a focus on multi-family, affordable and supportive housing properties; boutique hotels; and small businesses in economically challenged and emerging communities, the company is committed to serving those who are the most in need and making interior design a standard for all.
Determined by Design was founded after Weatherspoon’s decade of experience designing spaces for hospitality, multi-family, and high-end residential clients. Prior to that, she served in the U.S. Air Force shortly after 9/11, during which time she was deployed to the Middle East and found herself living in a bare space shared by 15 other women. In those quarters, Weatherspoon discovered the power of design as a means of creating space and comfort, and continues to channel this positive, forward-looking, go-getter attitude in her projects and business.
For Weatherspoon, to be a woman, specifically a woman of color, in interior design can often feel isolating, and she notes that her craft "isn’t often utilized in communities, housing and businesses of color." However, she has personally experienced the power of design and how it can change lives, and is motivated to "change that narrative...and make exceptional design accessible to people who need it the most."
Related Reading: 10 Dwell Projects That Were Proudly Designed by Women